The inhabitants of Cedar Creek, California, are getting very sick. Quickly.
Safely contained within the depths of the African rainforest for years a lethal virus has found its way to this small community and is infecting its population.
It is more deadly than the Black Plague and more contagious than the common cold . . . and it threatens to spread uncontrollably outward: to neighbouring San Francisco; throughout California; across the United States; and, soon after, around the world.
US Army research physician Sam Daniels (Dustin Hoffman) is in a race against time to find the key to stop the virus before it radiates beyond the small town and wipes out hundreds of thousands.
He must also outpace his government superiors, who are poised to unleash a plan that will contain the virus in a manner as uncompromisingly lethal as the outbreak itself.
Daniels has been dispatched by General Billy Ford (Morgan Freeman), his commanding officer at USAMRIID (US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases), to investigate an outbreak of a virulent new virus in Zaire.
Deep within the dense tropical rainforest there, Sam discovers a village which has been obliterated by a horrific virus with a nearly 100% fatality rate. The population are all now dying or already lie dead and stacked like firewood.
Sam concludes that the killer virus- called Motaba and ranked one level more dangerous than anthrax, typhus and HIV – is capable of spreading to the United States – if it hasn’t already – and warns his superior officers to place the country on alert. He also advises his ex-wife, Dr Roberta “Robby” Keough (Rene Russo), who is currently working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of his urgent findings.
In one scientist’s words, the virus “liquefies” the organs and leaves its victims looking as if a bomb went off inside them.
Without explanation, however, Sam is taken off the investigation by General Ford and Robby’s supervisors at the CDC refuse to heed the warnings.
Robby and Sam await the worst. But as time passes and no reports of contagion are received, the medical emergency that could have decimated the country seems, luckily, to have passed.
Until reports begin flowing into the agencies that people in a small Califonia town are contracting flu-like symptoms, becoming progressively ill and dying within hours of being infected – in the same agonising way as the victims in Africa.
The worst has come true: the virus has somehow found its way to America. And it must be stopped.
Despite their personal differences, Robby and Sam agree to work together – and against their respective superiors – to try to contain the deadly disease before it spreads beyond the small community of Cedar Creek.
Their race to find an antiviral serum is further threatened by one of the nation’s highest-ranking military officers, General McClintock (Donald Sutherland) who has vowed not to let the virus – or its secret (military) history – out of Cedar Creek at any cost.
Outbreak is rich with the kind of dialogue no disaster movie should be without, like “Dr Daniels, there’s something I think you should see” and “Sam, why don’t you try to get a little sleep?”
But it matters little how corny the lines sound because the characters who speak them take a distant second place to the action anyway – helicopter chases and the desperate search for a chattering little monkey who may or may not be the carrier of the virus.
Colonel Sam Daniels MD
Dr Roberta “Robby” Keough
General Billy Ford
Cuba Gooding Jr.
General Donald McClintock
Dr Benjamin Iwabi
Dr Lisa Aronson
Susan Lee Hoffman
Dr Julio Ruiz
Leland Hayward III
Per Didrik Fasmer
Michelle M. Miller
Sandman One Co-Pilot
Viper One Pilot
Viper Two Pilot
Robert Alan Joseph
Viper Two Co-Pilot
Seaman Chulso Lee
Police Chief Fowler
Robert Alan Beuth
Dr Drew Reynolds